Golf Digest Ambush
Alabama Trail Blazers
Akash Amin was curious: "Could a group of Vijay Singh look-alikes get on the cover of Golf Digest?"
"It's possible," I said. "You guys putt better than he does."
No cover this time, but Amin and company were the "victims" of our 20th Golf Digest Ambush as they enjoyed an idyllic trip to Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
I met up with the group at Grand National, in Opelika (near Auburn University) and passed out balls, hats, sunglasses and bought drinks and dinner. In the spirit of the ambush, the Trail threw in the lodging. What was already a great deal could now be considered a steal. Over four days the guys experienced some of the Trail's best, playing Ross Bridge, Oxmoor Valley (Ridge) and two courses at Grand National, and they stayed two nights at Ross Bridge and one at the Auburn Marriott Opelika. What would've cost $495 per man was down to $255.
"We've been pleasantly surprised," said Vyomesh Desai, who planned this first buddies trip for six guys he has been friends with since elementary school in Chattanooga. "I would've never thought we'd be able to play these beautiful courses and stay at these resorts for these prices." And he said that before he knew the lodging was part of the 'Bama ambush bailout.
These guys are already planning a trip to the Trail next year. It's an easy drive down from Tennessee, and they have plenty of options. The Trail has 11 hubs of golf, almost all have at least 36 holes, scattered throughout the state. The longest distance between two sites is 384 miles, but you don't have to drive much more than two hours to get from one hub to another. Desai's group drove 120 miles between Grand National and Ross Bridge, which at $136 in peak season (March through November) is the Trail's most expensive. Others range from $45 to $64.
Interested in a buddies trip to the Trail? Desai suggests taking advantage of the user-friendly website: rtjgolf.com. For a guy who isn't typically organized or the alpha-planner of this posse, Desai says he appreciated the electronic assist. "They make it real easy for you." Some of the key features: a map of the state with highlighted Trail sites, a color-coded grid of seasonal green fees and a page that allows you to "Build Your Own" golf package.
If the website was easy on Desai, the golf posed a problem. He was by far the self-proclaimed "worst" on a trip of guys ranging in age from 28 to 31 with handicaps from 15 to 36. But skill had no bearing on how they were treated. "The customer service at Ross Bridge was fantastic," says Vish Amin, the consensus best golfer of the group. "At nice courses, sometimes the staff looks down on bad golfers. Not here. There's not a snooty feel."